Student intifada sweeps US campuses

Across the US, and around the world, students and faculty have been engaging in a wave of protests, demonstrations and encampments on their campuses to demand that their institutions divest from companies profiting from Israel’s apartheid and genocide.

The students have been met with violent repression from police, and smears from their university administrations, corporate media, pro-genocide lawmakers and Zionist groups.

In early May, I was joined by four students and one professor from universities across the US who have been part of the encampments.

While organizing their campuses to demand divestment, they have experienced first-hand not just arrests and violations of their civil rights, but also the broad and growing support of their communities and by Palestinian civil society.

UCLA student Samuel Ahmed was part of an encampment at his university that was violently attacked by Zionist mobs on 30 April. The next night, hundreds of Los Angeles police swarmed into the encampment, shooting flash-bang grenades and “rubber-coated” bullets at the students, sending some to the hospital.
Because Zionist mobs had attacked the encampment while police stood by, Ahmed said, the LAPD labeled them a “focal point” for attacks.

It was “simply unbelievable for them to first allow us to be attacked and then use it for the reason for the sweep,” he told The Electronic Intifada Podcast.

Sherif I., a member of Columbia University Apartheid Divest, described the New York Police Department’s attacks on students that had happened several days before.

“A lot of it was incredibly vicious, very fascist, and frankly, in the same beat, the [university] president Minouche Shafik constantly said that she was doing this to keep students safe. It is so ironic and so much of a contradiction to have a university president frame this entire situation in this way,” he told us.

He added that “The camp was the safest place on campus, it was loving, beautiful, it created an amazing sense of community, and so [many] of us had felt, for the first time, that we had a space on the campus.”

Bryce Greene, a graduate student at the University of Indiana and a writer with Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, told us that snipers were escorted onto campus by university administrators and had set up positions on the roof of a building overlooking the encampment.

He talked about his arrest by police “just because we put two tents up in a park.” He was banned from campus for five years, he said.
“These are clearly tactics designed to intimidate students, to make them fear the very act of speaking out,” Greene explained.

Bikrum Gill, an assistant professor of political science at Virginia Tech, was also arrested in late April as police broke up the encampment there. He explained that since October, the administration has fostered a hostile climate on campus against Palestinian students in particular.

“Some of us faculty … took a position to make clear to our Palestinian students and their allies and organizers on campus that we were going to be here with them, to stand with them, so that they would not have to deal with what is, quite frankly, anti-Palestinian racism,” he said.

Jake E., an organizer of the encampment at California State University Los Angeles, told us that the students involved in their encampment – who watched the LAPD attack the students at UCLA – were trying to prepare for a police crackdown.

UC Berkeley’s “Camp Free Palestine”

Earlier this month, I visited the encampment at UC Berkeley and spoke to Matt Fernandez, a law student and organizer of their “Camp Free Palestine” about the support of the community and the reasons why students are determined to stay until the university divests.

Students there have set up their encampment on the steps of Sproul Hall, where the Free Speech movement of the 1960s was ignited, and where historic encampments against the Vietnam war and South Africa’s apartheid system have taken place in the past decades.

In the background, you can hear the sounds of Israeli drones, which students have broadcast over speakers to remind passers-by of the constant noise of drones over the Gaza Strip.

Watch the entire podcast episode with students at the top of this post, or listen via SoundCloud below.

Video production by Tamara Nassar

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Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).